Facts about childhood allergies you may not know

Whether it’s peanuts or pollen, childhood allergies are becoming more prevalent. We share the latest news and expert advice on how to manage your child’s allergies. By Tammy Jacks

According to Food Allergy Research and Education, food allergies are on the rise and affect over 5 million American children under the age of 18. Research also shows about 40% of children with food allergies are allergic to more than one food.

New guidelines on how to test for peanut and egg allergies

In 2000, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended that any child who is at risk of a peanut allergy (like those who have a family history of peanut allergies, or have eczema or other food allergies), should avoid peanuts or any products containing peanuts before the age of 3.

However, these guidelines came under scrutiny when a few years later, new research emerged suggesting that many food allergies, especially peanut, milk, egg and wheat allergies, can be prevented by exposing your child to the food from a young age.

According to the American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology, pregnant and breastfeeding moms shouldn’t restrict their diets to avoid potential allergens. And for babies, they suggest gradually introducing foods such as eggs, dairy, wheat and nuts to little ones from the age of 4 months to see if they are tolerated. Although this might be somewhat scary for parents, studies have shown that delaying the introduction of these foods may increase a baby’s risk of developing allergies later.

ALSO SEE: Food allergies and weaning – everything you need to know 

The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases offers the following guidelines:

  • Babies with severe eczema who need to be treated and/or have an egg allergy should be tested for peanut allergies as soon as possible.
  • Babies with mild to moderate eczema, don’t need to be tested for allergies. Peanuts or products containing peanuts should be introduced from the age of 6 months.
  • Babies who don’t have any eczema or don’t show any signs of a food allergy should have peanut products and other foods from a young age.
Additionally, Stanford food allergy expert Kari Nadeau explains in a recent food allergy podcast that when it comes to managing food allergies, experts now recommend the “Three D’s” approach. This involves:
  • Avoiding dry skin, since allergens that breach the skin barrier can trigger allergies
  • Diversifying the diet with a variety of food proteins from an early age
  • Getting some “good dirt” such as probiotics and fibre to help establish a community of healthy microbes in the gut.

Facts about kids’ allergies you may not know about:

Not all potential food allergens are obvious

International health and wellness expert Maria Ascencao, who has a special interest in allergies, says the most common allergen foods for kids are:

  • Peanuts
  • Tree nuts
  • Milk
  • Eggs
  • Wheat
  • Fish
  • Shellfish
  • Soybeans

She adds there are some uncommon foods you should watch out for, too, as these contain ingredients that could cause allergies. These include:

  • Seeds. Such as sesame seeds and oils.
  • Certain sweets. Like marshmallows, gummies, jelly and some frosted cereals. This is because these foods contain gelatin, which your child could be allergic to.
  • Gelatin. This is a protein substance that’s formed when connective tissue from animals is boiled. If your child is allergic to gelatin, she’ll need to avoid all sweets and products containing gelatin.
  • Baked treats. Such as muffins and cakes containing eggs. Plus, foods such as mayonnaise and ice cream which also contain dairy products such as milk, eggs or cheese.
  • Dried fruit. Many dried fruit brands (as well as the popular sugary fruit sticks) are preserved with sulphites, known to cause allergies in both kids and adults. Cold meats also contain sulphites, as well as some canned and frozen fruits.
  • “Colourful” sweets and foods. Many of these contain food dyes which are also allergy culprits. Some foods containing food dyes include soft drinks, sweets, sweetened yoghurts, salad dressings, ice cream and cheese.

How to prevent an allergic reaction

In some cases, food allergies can be serious. Food Allergy Research and Education reports that “more than 40% of children with food allergies have experienced a severe allergic reaction such as anaphylaxis. This is a severe allergic reaction that may cause skin irritations, shortness of breath, dizziness, and a swollen tongue or throat.”

One of the easiest and most effective ways to prevent an allergic reaction, says Maria, is to ensure your child avoids foods that contain the allergen altogether. However, avoidance is easier said than done as substances like food dyes can hide in foods where you’d never expect them to be, as well as in certain medicines and supplements.

“It’s important to read the ingredients on the label of every product carefully and if you aren’t sure, to contact the manufacturer to ask for more information, or rather avoid it entirely. Eating whole foods as close to nature is best. If you’re unsure, speak to your medical practitioner about how best to manage something like a food dye allergy in your child,” she says.

ALSO SEE: Managing your child’s food allergies at school

A word on environmental allergies

If your child suffers from a stuffy nose, watery eyes and is constantly sneezing, or has a persistent cough, she may be suffering from environmental allergies, often linked to triggers such as dust, pollen, mould, pet hair or pollutants such as cigarette smoke.

If your child suffers from environmental allergens, you may not know that winter may offer some from allergy symptoms, says Maria. This is because plants hibernate in colder climates and grass doesn’t grow.

Furthermore, the difference in temperature and rainfall patterns affect the pollination periods of plants and the growth of mould spores, which are common allergy triggers.

Allergic reactions are usually higher during spring but can also be experienced in summer when grass pollens peak. Warmer days can also cause increased pollination while on windy days, pollen gets disseminated, which can cause an allergic reaction.

Triggers are less prevalent in autumn if it rains as the moisture weighs down the pollen and prevents it from becoming airborne.

How to manage seasonal allergies  

If your child experiences the same allergy at the same time every year, for example, hay fever, sinus problems, runny nose or itchy eyes, Maria suggests trying a natural, moisturising nose spray such as Similasin Sinus Relief or Hayfever Relief.

These stimulate the body’s ability to relieve allergy symptoms and are safe for daily use. If your child is under the age of two, or the symptoms are severe, see your GP before using any medication.

If your child’s symptoms are severe, it’s advisable for him to stay indoors and keep windows and doors closed when pollen counts are high on very hot or windy. Maria also suggests you and your child change your clothes and wash your hair at the end of the day to avoid any triggers at bedtime.

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